The Rom-Com Conundrum

I just read an article on romantic comedies and sexism, The Astonishing Sexism of Hollywood and What it Means for Girls; it does a good job of spelling out what we already knew- the damage the classic romantic comedy female lead role does to young women and girls who watch these tropes and internalizing them.

As I read through it, I thought about the absence of race in this conversation which got me thinking. Do I even want women of color leading rom-coms?

On a basic level, I want to say yes, more diversity in media, plzkthnx!

The classic rom-com female lead is either a type-A (exerts too much control) or wild-child (frivolous and childish- manic pixie dream girl) trope, and white (typically blond). Women of color tend to fall into the role of the sassy best-friend or side-kick, giving sage advice to the misguided but adorable and  likable female lead while having no character development for themselves. More than that, even in so called “urban-targeted” films, we’re controlling, ball-busting or soul crushing- certainly not the adorable blond who needs to learn a lesson. No, we’re the harpy who needs to get taken down a peg or five. Do I want this, no need this to end? Hell yes.

On the other hand, I’m not only a black person, I’m a woman. Do I want to see women of color stripped of dignity and agency, made to be more vulnerable so that they appeal to an audience? Do I really want to see them perpetuate harmful stereotypes of women? Do I want to see them exist for the sole purpose of advancing a male character’s development? Do I just want a ‘whiter’ female character of color?

Certainly not.

Even as I argue for more diverse casting, I can’t ignore the inherent sexism present in the entertainment business. As much as I want to see more women of color going past the sassy best-friend token role, I don’t know if I could bear it if they jumped from one oppression to another. This sort of conundrum is why I scoff at anyone who ignores intersection in anti-oppression work. Not only must we completely disrupt the institutional sexism in Hollywood, we must at the same time disrupt the instituionalized racism, ableism, queerphobia, etc. We need to have romances that aren’t heteronormative, where the woman doesn’t have to be shamed/taught a lesson to be seen as relatable or appealing, where women of color can flourish as fleshed out strong characters.

I do want to see a woman of color leading a rom-com (my ambivalence to rom-coms as a genre aside, it is a significant part of the box office biz), but the rom-com role itself has to change.

Related Articles
Counting Colored Cash – POCs can make an impact—even though we’ve proven it time and time and time again—and will make the flimsiest excuses to justify why POCs shouldn’t be visible in the media and why our dollars don’t count. Excuses I’m about to debunk and with this post.

Open discussion: Rom-coms, Ars Marginal style – Why don’t we take on all the rom com bullshit? Let’s subvert the fuck out of what this cliche-ridden drivel shovels to us about sex, love, and romance!” Take something you hate about rom-coms, then flip the script and make it something awesome!

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2 Responses to The Rom-Com Conundrum

  1. That’s the thing, isn’t it? Even getting to be the Most Valued Female Stereotype is still nowhere near to being portrayed as fully rounded characters. Patriarchal (kyriarchal, maybe?) bargaining can only get you so far, and there’s no way to win that one in the end. Bah.

    • Patriarchal (kyriarchal, maybe?) bargaining can only get you so far, and there’s no way to win that one in the end.

      That’s exactly it, right?
      I love the way you put it (Most Valued Female Stereotype). There’s just no winning down that road. All it does is reinvest in and reinforce the oppression.

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